If your diet’s got a hole in it…

friday food 4.6

You might remember a few Fridays back, when I wrote about my break-up with gluten.

Seems to me that when any relationship ends, there are really only two choices we can make:

1. We can find substitutes that are as much like the thing we’ve lost as possible.

shortbread substitute

When I went to visit my parents recently, I found this waiting for me. I LOVE this thoughtful gesture (especially the arrows!). My family was so supportive of my new dietary needs, but I have to admit I didn't love the cookies. Hooking up with these might be a little like dating someone because he reminds me of the boyfriend who just broke my heart.

2. Or, we can find an all-new love, maybe one we never considered while in that old relationship.

lemon chicken with edamame

Lemon chicken and edamame are both brand new for me. This is something I can love without looking back.

I’ve been experimenting with both approaches since I’ve learned that I must go gluten-free, and so far, the second approach is my hands-down favorite.

Here’s why:

New things satisfy our appetite for novelty

Our brains crave novelty–which is why a great something new is way more satisfying than a poor substitute for an old favorite.

In the past few weeks I’ve tried a couple of new things I really like, but today I’m going to focus on just one:  quinoa.

cup of uncooked quinoa

Quinoa is nothing exotic and it’s already a dietary staple for many, but it’s new to me. I’d never heard of it, and I sure never knew there was a food that packs so much nutritional punch:

“A careful look at a single grain of quinoa quickly reveals its nutritional superiority to other grains. The germ, equivalent to the yolk of an egg, is the most power-packed part of any seed. In most grains it is little more than a speck, but quinoa’s germ completely surrounds the rest of the seed. This helps explain why quinoa contains up to 20 percent high-quality protein. Hard spring wheat, the next highest common grain in protein, contains only 14 percent by comparison. The United Nations World Health Organization observes that quinoa is closer to the ideal protein balance than any other grain, being at least equal to milk in protein quality. This dynamic grain is high in B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, and vitamin E.”

         —Rebecca Wood, The Splendid Grain, quoted by Shauna Ahern on Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

More important than that:  It tastes good AND it’s easy to cook.

So how do you cook it?

In the course of my new adventures in eating, I’ve had to acknowledge a sad fact:

I don’t know how to cook.

Truly, I don’t.

So, I’m starting simple, and quinoa is super-simple.

All I have to do is put it in the rice cooker, and it cooks perfectly. (And FYI–While rice is typically made with one part liquid to one part rice, quinoa requires two parts liquid to one part quinoa.)

rice cooker

No real cooking skills required here. Put in some liquid and some quinoa, and push the button down. When it's done, the cooker keeps it warm. (And this cooker was a steal, btw. $10 at Goodwill. Used is a good thing!)

And what do you do with it after it’s cooked?

As stated above, I don’t really know how to cook. Yet. But I can follow a recipe (as long as it doesn’t require any fancy moves). Lucky for me, the quinoa pictured here came in a box from Trader Joe’s that had an easy recipe right on the box!

quinoa box from Trader Joe's

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, but this is what I did do:

stir-fry vegetablesGarlic Chicken Stir Fry with
Quinoa, Peppers, and Basil

1 cup of quinoa
2 cups of chicken broth
2-3 chicken breast halves (depends on how big they are and how much chicken you want; eyeball it)
4 tbs. olive oil
1/2 a big yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
3 tbs. diced garlic (from a jar)
Couple shakes of basil
Grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

How to make it:

1. Put the quinoa in a rice cooker with the two cups of chicken broth. Turn it on and let it cook while you’re doing the other steps below.

2. Slice onions and peppers.

3. Slice chicken into 1-inch cubes.

4. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat.

5. Add chicken and sautee about 5 minutes or until golden brown. (I overcooked ours because it took longer than 5 minutes to turn golden brown–but I also didn’t have the skillet on high heat. My bad.)

6. Add onions and bell peppers and saute for 1-2 minutes.

7. Add garlic and saute until peppers are slightly limp, but still bright.

8. Season with salt and pepper.

9. Remove the pan from the heat and add the quinoa (which should be done cooking) and the basil.Sprinkle with basil until the color looks right to you. (The recipe called for 20 leaves of fresh basil, which I highly recommend, but I’d already been to the grocery store, and it was late, and I wasn’t going back to get the fresh stuff.)

10. Stir ingredients, then add freshly grated parmesan cheese to the top.

And that’s it! You’re done!

quinoa with chicken and vegetables

Don't know that this really captures it, but it was really good. Served it with a simple green salad and a glass of wine.

It’s not just about novelty

While novelty alone is a good enough reason to experiment with new foods, I think there’s an even better one.

Earlier this week I read a lovely post from Rachel at Small Notebook, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” She shared a small gardening story that ended with a big idea:

Pruning precedes growing.

You might be thinking, well, duh…–but stop and really think about it.

jade plant

When we cut things away, it makes an empty space that we often don’t like. It feels like a hole.

But that space allows room for new growth. In fact,

New growth often can’t happen without pruning, without cutting off something we once found beautiful.

By walking away and not looking back at some of the foods I used to love–biscuits covered in gravy, pastries, all kinds of bread–I’ve opened room for new foods to enter. If I were spending all my energy looking for substitutes (which are doomed to disappoint because they are only imitations), I wouldn’t have any to use for discovering brand new foods to love.

chicken strips

On that same trip to my parents, we took the kids to a favorite diner. I had to pass on the chicken strips, a long-time tradition.


Passing on the chicken gave me the chance to try this. It was way better the the chicken strips, but I'd never considered it before.












And it’s not just about foods. It’s about experiences with food, too. In my quest to fill those holes with new things, I’m not just filling holes in my diet. I’m also filling some holes in me.

This week, I made lime chicken tacos with home-made tortillas and pico de gallo.

lime chicken tacos

My photo's not amazing, but these open-faced tacos were.

Tacos are nothing new, but the way I made them?  Totally new. And I just gotta tell you:

They were amazing.

Not just eating them, but making them.

tortilla dough

tortilla pressfresh tortilla







Me, the woman who doesn’t know how to cook. The one who hates cooking.

I had the best damn time making this dinner. Really.

(Even though I dropped the top of the tortilla press on my thumb, which is still sporting a nice bruise.)

But…I think I’ll save that story for next week.

Hope you’ll check back next Friday.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your adventures in eating. Hope you’ll chat with me in the comments or on FB.